October 17, 2007

Ungrateful Expectations

Sometimes it seems to take forever to learn things. And sometimes, we learn things in a relatively short time but it takes many years to master them.

I learned something important from a therapist. (Yeah, I had a therapist for clinical depression. It was good enough for Tony Soprano, so get over it.) This involves expectations, and what "should" be. He was fond of the Albert Ellis school of psychology, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. I don't agree with everything (I think the man's an atheist, for example), but a great deal of it makes sense.

Suppose I go into a shop. Normally, I expect professionalism and courtesy. But suppose this guy is having a bad day, and he's rude. He shouldn't be rude, he should treat me right. Isn't that awful? No, it's not. I get angry because I'm expecting something I'm not getting. Instead, I should accept the fact that it's a little thing. The world isn't going to cave in because he treats me like a cafone. Just dropping that expectation helps reduce the blood pressure and stress levels.

That dummy broad is touching up her makeup and talking on the cell phone while driving. She shouldn't be doing that, it's awful. No, she shouldn't. Drive around her or something, or tough it out. Again, no reason to get excited. Even the "dummy broad" judgment on her is an emotional investment that you're expending.

Some weird guy in the restaurant shouldn't be staring at me... OK, you work this example out for yourself.

We change what we can, sure. Certain injustices should be pointed out and rallied against, but the little day-to-day annoyances that cause us suffering can simply be acknowledged ("he was rude"), the emotions dealt with ("I don't like that") and be realistic ("I can try again, or find another shop"). One fellow used to say to me, "It ain't nothing but a thang".

"It is what it is", as the saying goes, and sometimes it's a useful saying. Something shouldn't happen, but guess what? It happened. We can't expect behavior from people. I made some really stupid mistakes expecting people to act or react in certain ways, putting those expectations on them and making them guess or perceive what I wanted. When I was able to realize what I was doing and really look at it, I saw the folly of my ways and dropped them. But I'm still learning, since emotions are not logical. They can be trained to respond to reason, however.

Interestingly enough, the Ellis approach, which is taking rational control of your emotions and your own choices, is also compatible with Buddhism. I do not accept all of Buddhism (I do have an immortal soul, Jesus did indeed bodily rise from the dead, etc.), but I have learned a great deal from it. One of the best things I got from it, and can mostly agree with (I don't see conflict with most religions in this, in fact) is a .pdf booklet on the Four Noble Truths.

You don't have to like something. But it's up to you how much fretting you're going to do. You can even influence just how depressed you're going to get over something happening that you don't like. Change it if you can, live with it otherwise. (In "Doctor Who", the Fourth Doctor said, "What can't be cured must be endured".)

But first, decide how much emotional energy you want to expend. Is it worth it? Start with the small stuff, even that helps the stress levels.


Anonymous said...

This man is a genius. When it comes to the here and now, emotional attachment is just that. Every thought that you think you aint thinkin...you really dont feel that? That emotion is the trigger to "oh snap" i realy dont need to think that? NO, its YOUR head...just like when you are late to work, you are responsible to make up that lost time. Ever feel Overwhelmed by your own thoughts and emotions...? I mean yea, weed and alchohol can help, but then you become a $30 a week dependant, you dont need that! Just take a deep breath, clear your head. Dont get frustrated because it really is your head, frustration just adds to what is overwhelming you. The HERE, and the NOW. BREATH, you do it every day, all day anyway right? Concentrate! 005 glad to be your coworker, and thank ye for all that you teached me. Man is a social genious.


Bob Sorensen said...

As Sherlock Holmes said, 'My blushes, Watson...'

Yes, Ellis is a genius. A bit unhinged in his old age, but he gave a lot of useful information. "How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable about Anything", "How To Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You", "How To Control Your Anger Before It Controls You"...you get the idea. (Many available in audiobooks.) Hope you download the "Four Noble Truths" book from the link. Thanks for commenting.

Bonnie said...

It's funny I have been thinking on this same track all week. Have you ever heard of the "Crazy Cycle"? It could happen with anyone but the best illustration is probably husband and wife. For instance the wife wants to feel loved and the husband wants to be respected but if the wife does not feel loved she will not show respect and if hubby does not feel respected he will not show love. So where does it stop? Sadly a lot of times it stops with divorce but hey what if they both dropped their expectations and instead of getting your shorts in a bundle and starting up this cycle every time there is a misunderstanding why not just do your part and try to recognize their motives? I mean if my hubby forgets our anniversary every year then suddenly one year he remembers to stop and get me a card and flowers but ooops he forgot to read the card and it is a birthday card do I rip him up one side and down the other for getting me a birthday card on our anniversary or do I see how he was trying to be thoughtful and simply made a mistake? Hmmmmmmm...Or if he does not get excited and jump up and down about his Christmas gifts is he doing it to hurt me or just being himself which does not put him at fault?
If we realize we don't have any rights in the first place and drop our expectations I think we could deal with life better. Not that I do that....and it doesn't bother me when a stranger treats me badly....the REALLY IMPORTANT THINGS bother me like people cracking their gum or talking with their mouth full. See how ridiculous that is? I guess a that point I have to stop and think "how much do I want this person or this situation control me and how much energy do I really need to put into it?"

You know what I don't even know anymore if this has anything to do with what you were thinking but thanks for the blog, I enjoyed it as always. Sorry for going on and on. It is just that after about 30 years of marriage I am starting to try and figure some stuff out.

Silly Goose said...

"I do not accept all of Buddhism"

I hope you don't accept any.
This is an old post I think so I hope you got over that! :-)

Bob Sorensen said...

Nope, now I'm into Hinduism. It's a close relative of Buddhism anyway.

OK, fact is, there are some elements of Buddhism that I have learned from, but I rejected far more than I learned. Since I recommitted my life to Jesus, I dumped my Buddhist trappings and don't even bother with that stuff, making up for lost time with good teachings from Charles Stanley, Alistair Begg, etc. And simply reading my Bible!

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